Kerry Heaney peels back the layers of Tasmania’s turbulent history by exploring the Heritage Highway route between Hobart and Launceston, staying in romantic stone buildings converted into luxury hotels.
As Tasmania’s locals like to say, although the bushrangers are long gone, there are still many ways to get held up on the Heritage Highway. Built by convict road gangs in the early 1800s, this route between Launceston and Hobart echoes the faster and more popular Midland Highway. It takes you exploring pretty Georgian-style villages like Ross, Oatlands and Campbell Town, and it feels like you’re driving through the English Cotswolds, with charming pubs, churches and bridges to match.
Hobart’s Maylands, Prospect House in Richmond and Stillwater Seven in Launceston are three newly restored hotels that make perfect resting points along the Heritage Highway. Here, you’ll live like landed gentry in houses where convicts once scurried around in darkened cellars.
The whispering walls at Maylands Lodge
Designed by renowned Tasmanian architect Henry Hunter in 1887, Maylands Lodge is located in Newtown, three kilometres from Hobart’s city centre. Over the years, this private mansion has served as a girls’ school and hostel, and the headquarters of the Salvation Army.
Thanks to a $5 million renovation started in 2016, it’s now an award-winning private boutique hotel, its walls so full of historic ambience you can almost hear the chatter of young girls’ voices as they race down to dinner, their sensible 1920s-style shoes drumming on the stair treads.
© Maylands Lodge, Hobart
The Coal Valley
From Maylands, take the heritage slow road to Richmond, discovering the Coal River Valley wineries along the way. Plan for cellar-door stops at Puddleduck Vineyard (do check out the duck shop here) and Frogmore Creek. Historic landmarks among Richmond’s Georgian-style architecture include the Richmond Bridge, built in the 1820s, and Richmond Gaol, the oldest jail in Australia.
Just outside Richmond, Prospect House Private Hotel was convict-built in the 1830s. It’s a grand two-storey Georgian building with a restaurant and luxury accommodation in a separate, newer building at the rear.
© Maylands Lodge, Hobart
Just across the road is owner John Pooley’s third-generation, family-run Pooley Wines. Although Pooley produces award-winning riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir wines, it was the Pooley Matilda Sparkling wine that Prince Charles tasted and loved during his visit to Richmond in 2018.
Shadows of the Past highway sculpture trail
On the road to Launceston, watch out for 16 silhouettes, together known as Shadows of the Past, which make a highway sculpture trail between Tunbridge and Kempton. You’ll spot soldiers, bushrangers, surveyors and even a stagecoach. It might also be your only chance to see a Tasmanian tiger.
Just 18 kilometres before Launceston, Evandale is filled with a heritage village atmosphere, antiques stores and browsable shops. Stop for a meal at Clarendon Arms hotel and catch the regular Sunday Markets.
Premium Tasmanian produce
Make Stillwater Seven your Launceston destination. Already renowned for its excellent food, Stillwater now has seven rooms crafted in the top levels of the 1830’s waterfront flour mill. The lodgings are moody waterfront-facing dens highlighting the Tamar River views. It’s a place where you want to stay in and work your way through the mini-bar’s extensive range of premium Tasmanian produce, complemented by bread baked fresh daily and housemade butter.
Hobart to Launceston is a two-and-a-half-hour journey on the Midland Highway. Explore the Heritage Highway route in the slow lane, and this could easily take a leisurely, enjoyable and enlightening two days or more. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?